There is a very curious disparity between what Herman Mashaba says, and what his fledgling political party, ActionSA does. It has been just over a year since the “accidental mayor” resigned from the Democratic Alliance, abandoning the residents of Johannesburg who placed their trust and vote in him to deliver the city from complete collapse under the ANC.
In that time, Mashaba’s story has been published in a book, he has labelled the DA “right wing”, and thus committed to stake his own claim in the South African political landscape which he says is a “broken political system”. Ironically, he has done so by launching his own party, ActionSA, though it isn’t quite an official party yet as Mashaba’s team can’t seem to grapple with the IEC conditions for party registration.
Yet something doesn’t quite add up: why would Mashaba label the DA “right wing” only to copy and paste their policies almost verbatim into his party’s own manifesto and, more curiously, why would he never speak to and uphold them on any public platform?
If you consult the homepage of ActionSA’s website, under “Rule of Law” and “Non-racialism” you will find the following: “South Africans must act as one to challenge racism in all its forms and pro-actively work to break down racial stereotypes and racial prejudice”, and “No country can flourish and no economy can grow in a state of chaos. We must act as one to build a safe and secure South Africa where criminals cannot act with impunity”.
Now, if you look at the events which unfolded in Brackenfell over recent weeks, the EFF’s racial scapegoating and fascist grandstanding can only be described as the utter chaos and lawlessness, racial stereotyping, and prejudice against which ActionSA purports to be fighting. Yet as Brackenfell quickly morphed into a dangerous manifestation of EFF-fuelled racial polarisation, the very antithesis of what post-democratic South Africa should be, Herman Mashaba and ActionSA remained deafeningly silent.
If Mashaba stands for non-racialism and a just society, why does he not publicly uphold and defend these values? And more importantly, how are voters enamoured with ActionSA’s non-racial and justice-focused manifesto when it is quite clear that the party, and Mashaba, do not openly and fearlessly live and breathe it?
The answer lies in a short analysis of Mashaba’s foray into politics via the DA, and exposes the dangers not only of celebrity and the politics of personality, but the way in which the two can be used to fool voters into unknowingly electing into office a government that they may not want.
It is no secret that Herman Mashaba was the DA’s drawcard in Johannesburg in the 2016 local government elections, and yet, nearly four years later this has proven to be one of the party’s biggest mistakes. Parachuting a political lightweight into the mayorship of a city held together by a complex and polarised coalition was mistake number one.
Number two was governing in a coalition agreement with a party whose policies are diametrically opposed to your own. At the time, the DA leadership was warned that a coalition with the EFF in this way would only lead to a red tail wagging a blue dog, and that is precisely what the coalition government in the City of Johannesburg became.
It was impossible for the DA to make decisions in line with the values espoused by the party to create the type of clean and competent administration with which the DA had become synonymous. In addition, having someone like Mashaba, whose political compass is worryingly erratic, only added insult to injury. In the end, Herman Mashaba was seduced by the ease of race-based politics, kowtowing to the whims of his brethren sporting red berets, and abandoning the very DA caucus he was entrusted to lead.
In a few short months, the DA-led coalition became an EFF-led coalition with a DA-appointed mayor. Mashaba neglected his own caucus and EFF policy began to pollute council decisions as Herman’s love affair with the EFF flourished, the results of which can still be seen today.
Illegal land invasions soared under Mashaba’s administration, fleet contracts were awarded to EFF-linked companies, and the senseless racialisation of Mashaba began. It reared its ugly head in a tweet Mashaba sent in response to a complaint around road infrastructure raised by a white Twitter user. In response, Mashaba said: “Some of [the] beneficiaries of the past evil apartheid system have decided [to] become opponents of our Multi Party government in @CityofJoburgZA.”
If I didn’t know that it was Mashaba who tweeted this, I would have said that the tweet came from Julius Malema himself. But the key illustration of Mashaba’s cosy relationship with the EFF came in the form of a comment made by Floyd Shivambu in the immediate wake of Mashaba’s resignation as Johannesburg mayor. Shivambu is quoted lamenting that “it’s so sad that our mayor left”.
So why didn’t Mashaba just join the EFF? Well, Herman obviously risks serious reputational damage should he openly side with the red berets. But the real reason is this: Mashaba would probably not be able to run for mayor of Johannesburg on an EFF ticket. In order to replicate the cosy relationship he had with the EFF while retaining the mayorship of Johannesburg and his reputation as the darling of the people, Mashaba would need to get elected into council under a different party, and so ActionSA was born.
This arrangement suits the EFF which doesn’t want to govern, but rather to act as playmakers to destabilise councils or influence council decisions to benefit themselves. Mashaba was the easiest pawn they found to do this. Between Mashaba and the EFF, there is an evident win-win.
So it really doesn’t matter what ActionSA says it stands for. It exists as the political manifestation of Herman Mashaba’s ego, of a man wanting to have his cake and eat it, of a man wanting to be seen as a liberal nation-builder while forming alliances with fascists, and of a man whose political compass doesn’t need to be steadfast because his appeal lies in who he is and not the values and principles for which he stands. There is nothing more dangerous in politics, and we have history to prove that.
What matters to Mashaba is how he plans to blind you with his populist rhetoric and saviour image to usher in his tenure as mayor of the City of Johannesburg on the terms that he likes: with the EFF’s support and mandate, regardless of whether his voters want it or not.
And Mashaba’s deafening silence on the EFF’s violation of his own party’s proposed values and principles serves as proof of his cognitive dissonance. American psychologist Leon Festinger famously said: “When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.”
If you don’t believe that ActionSA stands for nothing, you need only take a look at its members. From disgraced and incompetent former DA leaders to ANC outcasts, the party is nothing more than a band of misfits. You cannot hope to have any ideological coherence when your party is made up of opportunists from across the political spectrum. The only thing they all have in common is a pathetic attempt at a jab at the DA at some point or other – hardly the picture of a credible political alternative.
ActionSA may not officially be a registered party, but it has chosen a party colour: green. This is indeed quite fitting as any art student will tell you that on the colour wheel, green and red are complementary colours. And so Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA and Julius Malema’s EFF are complementary political parties, with the corresponding colours to boot.
And this is what the voters need to know: parties that do not actively and vocally uphold, live, and breathe their policies and principles exist only for reasons of power and strategy. The problem herein, is that coupled with prominent personalities such as Mashaba, the dangers of parties of power and opportunity are masked by smiles, pretty websites, and the sowing of convenient lies.
We have perhaps eight to 10 months before our next local government elections, and the voters need to be made aware, long in advance, of one thing: ActionSA is not a unique party under the stewardship of Herman Mashaba. It is the EFF-lite. And the South African electorate would be wise to note this in the months leading up to next year’s elections. When it comes to Herman Mashaba, the “do as I say and not as I do” approach is one which will only end in disappointment. DM